Toronto native Joey Votto had no idea what he was getting himself into. Standing inside the cramped, even claustrophobia-causing visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field, the young Reds slugger became the most recent Answer Man subject before kicking off what would turn out to be a very good series for him in Chicago (5-11, 1 HR, 3 doubles, 2 runs 3 RBIs and 1 SB).
The results were sometimes funny and occasionally enlightening, but also awkward. Some "Answer Men" work better than others — count Reds teammate Jay Bruce as someone who enjoyed our discussion — and it usually depends a lot on how the subject rolls with the oddball punches.
So uncomfortable at times was Votto that his feelings were published in a Cincy-area newspaper mere minutes after our interview was over. How much did the '08 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up regret granting an interview to someone from Yahoo! Sports? Read for yourself. I'm including my thoughts in parentheses.
David Brown: So you're in your living room watching the '93 World Series and Joe Carter hits the game-winning home run against Mitch Williams. Did you decide at that moment you wanted to be a baseball player?
Joey Votto: That wasn't the deciding factor for me, it was just a great event for baseball people in Toronto. Obviously I'm on my couch and I jumped up and down like everybody else did, and my parents broke some laws by leaving the house and getting in their car and going downtown and leaving me as an 11- or 12-year old by myself.
DB: Did you lobby to go with?
JV: No, it was a little late.
(C'mon 10-year-old Joey Votto, loosen up. It was before midnight on a Saturday.)
DB: I read that you actually worked at SkyDome when you were a kid.
DB: That's not true?
DB: Have you seen that, a couple places, that you supposedly worked there as a kid?
JV: Somebody mentioned it. Meh, it's not true.
(Stupid Wikipedia! But man, his childhood was far less cool than it seemed before.)
DB: You were born in 1983 — too late to fully enjoy the Willie Upshaw era. Any regrets?
JV: I don't... I don't know very much about Willie.
DB: You're not much of a Blue Jays historian, then?
JV: No, not particularly.
(I sense I'm in trouble.)
DB: Are you familiar with the Mt. Rushmore monument in South Dakota with the presidents' faces sculpted onto the side? If we were to commission something like that for the middle of Saskatchewan, which Canadians would you like to see immortalized?
JV: Oh, it'd be all hockey players. Wayne Gretzky, I'm pretty sure Bobby Orr's Canadian. And Gordie Howe and Patrick Roy.
(OK! Nice list. We're back on track.)
DB: What about Michael J. Fox, Avril Lavigne?
(I wanted to add Fred McGriff, but forgot.)
JV: Yeah, there's tons of examples but if we're going to do a Mt. Rushmore, I think we have to stick to prime ministers [laughs]. People who ran our country.
DB: What about the guy who's running it now, Stephen Harper. You went to the same high school. Is he monument-worthy?
JV: I really couldn't tell you. The biggest Canadian prime minister, if I'm not mistaken, is Pierre Trudeau.
DB: What about that Brian Mulroney?
JV: No, there weren't that many who were into him. ... Or Jean Chrétien would be another we could do.
DB: That's a pretty good list. I've seen where you're not much of a hockey guy compared to the average Canadian. How come?
JV: I was never that interested in it. I played some basketball; I'm more interested in that.
(Don't forget to ask him if he can dunk. ... You're going to totally forget.)
DB: Ever feel like an outsider in your own country?
JV: More now than ever because everybody mentions it, and all the guys on Team Canada [from the World Baseball Classic] are big hockey fans. I follow basketball. That was always one of my passions and enjoyed watching it. I appreciate how athletically gifted those guys are. Just never got into hockey.
DB: Does the fact that it's Toronto Maple Leafs and not "Leaves" bother you?
JV: I don't think it bothers the crazy amount of fans that go to those games and follow that team. No, it doesn't bother me at all.
DB: When I ask you who the Stanley Cup Finals will feature, you'll say...
JV: I don't know. I'd hope, I'd assume, probably, San Jose from the West. And I hope to see Ovechkin in the Finals with the Capitals.
DB: How are you approaching the challenge of beating out Geovany Soto for Sophomore of the Year?
JV: I don't really... I don't really care about that. Geovany's a very good player in his own right and it's his responsibility to be the best catcher he can for the Cubs team. Now, after, my first year I'm strictly concerned with winning and playing my part in getting this team over .500 and eventually into the playoffs.
(Lost him again. Note to self: Should have emphasized that "Sophomore of the Year" is not a real award.)
DB: Despite being a left-handed batter, you have sound numbers against left-handed pitching, knock on wood. Do you consider yourself, like, a right-hander's lefty when a lefty pitches?
JV: It's difficult, it requires a different type of focus. I just do my best to put the ball in play and put it in play where no one's going to make a play on it and hopefully drive some runners in.
DB: Is there one lefty that comes and makes you go, "Aw, come on, not this guy"?
JV: Yeah, he's in the American League now. CC [Sabathia]. I'm really glad he signed that contract with the Yankees.
DB: And now he's out of your hair.
JV: Yeah, it was one of the better days in the off-season for me.
(Back on track! This must be what wrestling a marlin caught while deep-sea fishing is like. I've got you now, Joey Votto!)
DB: Did Canada's WBC team just put too much pressure on itself, with the home field advantage, etc?
JV: Mmm, no. I don't feel that. I just think that we didn't play very good baseball and the other teams — the Italian team played very good, fundamental baseball that day.
DB: Did you think about jumping sides that day? When it looked like it wasn't going Canada's way, heading over to Italy's dugout — which you could do, given your Italian heritage.
JV: No! I think that you're required a mustache to play for Team Italy. I think a lot of those guys grew it just to feel more Italian.
(OK, great answer! Totally in the spirit. Mustaches! We're like kindred souls. Actually, I sense some disconnect between Joey Votts and me. So, it's at this moment I want to interject what Votto told Hal McCoy in the Dayton Daily News.)
From the Real McCoy:
JOEY VOTTO granted somebody from Yahoo.com an interview in the clubhouse Tuesday, being polite as usual.
"But the guy started asking me a bunch of strange questions," said Votto. He asked about bowling and mustaches and why didn't Votto play for the Italian team in the World Baseball Classic instead of Canada?
Votto, polite as always, let the guy finish but shook his head later and said, "I was nice to him, polite to him. But I should have shut him down. That was a good learning experience for me."
(Just let it be known that it was JOEY VOTTO who mentioned "mustaches" first, not I. He was polite, though I would call it civil more than anything. And if you're wondering "Where's the bowling?!?" just wait a moment.)
DB: You don't see facial hair in your future?
DB: Like a Todd Helton — you've been compared to Todd Helton in other ways — but like a Todd Helton circle beard so people could really get down and compare you guys.
JV: Yeah, right. I'm just going to stick with what got me here, shaving every fourth day.
(He liked his own mustache angle so much, he keeps adding one-liners. Funny!)
DB: Are pasta sauces in Canada mostly mayonnaise-based?
JV: Not... I have no idea. I wouldn't think so.
(Connection... dropped. ... I know! I could reference Votto's love of bowling, which he expressed in another interview.)
DB: Do you think Reds management will cave to your demands and install a bowling alley in the clubhouse?
JV: I never demanded that.
DB: You didn't, but let's say... you did.
JV: But I didn't, though.
(No kidding. Like a second-year player can demand anything, much less a bowling alley. Don't be so literal, Joseph Daniel Votto.)
DB: Yes but, looking at it jokingly, if you were to demand a bowling alley...
JV: Then they wouldn't, for sure [build one].
(Jokingly. You know what that means sometimes, but not others. And this from a guy who admits to owning his own bowling shoes with red flames on them!)
DB: You don't think so?
JV: Absolutely not.
DB: You could make that part of your negotiations.
JV: No chance.
DB: What about a curling alley?
(If you could see Joey's face at this point, he clearly wants me to get out of his life. Can't do it yet. Sorry.)
JV: Heh, definitely not. Too much maintenance.
DB: What's your average?
JV: I don't know.
DB: Could you go on the hustling circuit like Roy Munson?
JV: What's that?
DB: Woody Harrelson in "Kingpin." Guy was a bowling hustler.
JV: Oh, what's my bowling average!
DB: You thought I was asking batting average.
JV: Yeah, I did. Um... maybe 165.
DB: Have you ever gotten close to 300?
JV: 266. It was two years ago.
DB: Which cities have the best alleys? Bowling and otherwise.
JV: I don't know. I've never bowled on the road. Just too busy getting ready for the game.
(Time to rise from the gutter, so to speak, and bring this baby home for all the nice people!)
DB: The plural of Votto. Does it come with an "e" like tomatoes? Or are you more of a potato family?
JV: I would guess potato. Vottos doesn't have an "e."
DB: It's a trick question — potatoes and tomatoes both add the "e."
DB: Speaking of Canadian stereotypes, there's a Tim Hortons donut shop about 30 miles outside of Cincinnati. Is that close enough?
JV: I've never been, I had no idea there was one.
DB: It's in Monroe. ... Does that do anything for you whatsoever?
JV: No, not at all [laughs].
(A laugh. Maybe we'll end on an up note?)
DB: When the United States finally goes metric, how much will that benefit your stats?
JV: We'll either be two-thirds or a half of what we were originally. So, not good.
(Great answer! We're going to end on a high, maybe with an embrace, I just know it.)
DB: Typing "Votto" and "Canada" into a certain search engine, it comes up with lottery results first. Do you have a gambling problem?
JV: No. I think there's some sort of "Lotto 6/49" up in Canada.
DB: What does 6/49 mean?
JV: I couldn't tell you.
DB: My favorite Joey Votto picture from last year doesn't even have you in it. It's of what appears to be your extended family gathered outside the Rogers Centre when the Reds went up there to play the Blue Jays.
(I'm taking out a copy of the photo — which includes a lady holding a sign that says "Get Lucky, Play Votto 649.")
DB: Have you seen this?
JV: No. I wasn't there for that.
DB: No, you weren't, but could you confirm that this is your family? Can you identify these people?
JV: No. No, I'd rather not get into it.
DB: All right, Joey, I appreciate your time (about 9 1/2 minutes).
JV: OK, thanks.
(Most. Awkward. Ending. Ever. Did he think I grabbed this photo off his mantel? Votto walked away and summoned Reds PR over for a conversation and then had another talk with Reds beat writer Hal McCoy and perhaps others. That's OK. Now it's all on the record, though I did forget to ask him if he can dunk.)